Perspectives on Idaho Panhandle National Forest Plan Revision
When we look at our National Forests, we conservationists necessarily take the long view. Our region has made a lot of mistakes in forest management over the years, and we continue to pay the price. Wildlife has been lost, habitat fragmented, and watersheds trashed. Moreover, as federal forest funding dwindles to a trickle, restoring wildlife habitat watershed health becomes impossibly challenging. So what becomes clear is that the most important areas in our forests from a conservation perspective — old growth, roadless, wilderness — once lost, are lost forever. It is an unfortunate truism that the best case scenario for conservationists is, essentially, not losing.
Back in January, the Idaho Panhandle National Forest issued a long-awaited revision of the forest plan, which will guide the management of our local federal forest lands for many years to come. KEA will be preparing some detailed comments, but there are some major issues with the plan as proposed. We’ll have more on the forest plan over the next few days, but we believe several key principles should guide forest planning in the 21st century in North Idaho. (1) Wilderness and roadless areas need continued protection, (2) watersheds and critical wildlife habitat need to be restored, and (3) timber production and recreational uses need to be balanced and sustainable.
With respect to wilderness, only Congress can designate permanent protection, but acreage can be recommended by the forest plan. While political gridlock and ideological opposition block permanent Congressional wilderness designation in Idaho, every forest plan cycle irreversibly whittles away at protected wilderness acreage. Of the nearly 1.5 million acres of inventoried roadless area in North Idaho, less than 17 percent is recommended for wilderness in this draft forest plan.
With respect to restoration and mixed use sustainability, the forest plan needs clear and protective standards for protecting habitat, watersheds, and old growth. Road construction, logging, motorized recreation add stresses to forests already disturbed by climate change, insects, and disease. A crucial component to the plan will be a commitment to monitoring, which has been lacking in recent years.
We encourage our members to weigh in on this plan. Mail or email your comments no later than April 5.Forest Plan Comments Idaho Panhandle National Forests 3815 Schreiber Way Coeur d’Alene, ID 83815 IPNFplanrevision@fs.fed.us